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Cold in the Desert

Uyuni, Bolivia


Uyuni is surrounded by some of the most spectacular and surreal scenery in Bolivia so, like every other gringo who visits the tumbleweed town, we hopped in a jeep for a tour of the nearby salt flats and National Park. We set off on a cloudy Sunday, our first stop was to pay our respects at the train “cemetery” which lies on the outskirts of town. Rows of rusty old trains create an amazing spectacle – abandoned in the baron wasteland, the tired brown relics lean passively, resigned to the slow erosion of the desert. We took photos and climbed all over them before being ferried off to the salt flats.

Both salty and flat, the salt flats were everything I was expecting. The endless white desert was fascinating and, above all, provided the opportunity to take vaguely amusing photos of us treading on each other and swinging on Josh’s beard. Josh’s beard really does deserve a mention. Cultivated since our departure and affectionately known as “The Wedge”, it has received praise and extended stares the world over. It has become a tourist attraction in itself. Now, after almost four months, Josh’s meticulous beauty regime has been extended to include a daily combing of The Wedge, which is habitually twisted and tangled in times of reflection.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, in the middle of a salty nowhere getting back into our jeep. The roads were thin smudges across the landscape and we gazed out of the windows at the blankness until we reached our lunch stop, the Isla Inchahuasi. An island upon the salt covered in cacti, Inchahuasis claim to fame seemed to be the fact that it is so spectacularly out of place. Nevertheless, it is a good place to climb up for a view of the flats and the distant mountains. After lunch and some more time dedicated to the perfect photographic illusion (it’s actually really hard to do if your camera is clever enough to have auto focus) we headed towards these mountains.

Our hotel was located on the edge of the salt flat where the terrain suddenly turned brown and rough. It was fairly comfortable, with hot water and a dining area from which we could see the colourful beams of the sun setting behind the mountains. Its most notable feature however was that it was constructed almost entirely out of salt! The walls, the tables, the chairs, even the beds were carved out of the stuff! If your chips were a bit bland you could simply scratch a bit of table onto them! It was a beautiful looking building, with salt crystal chandeliers illuminating the white uniformity of the rooms. In one corner they had a huge pile of salt and a stack of salt blocks – I like to think they just make anything they find lacking: “No, sorry we don´t have a bar but if you just give me a few minutes…” etc.

That night we got to know the other half of our group, a trio of flatulent Frenchmen who had a mysterious collection of cuts and bruises. They told us that they had just come from La Paz they had been robbed on two separate occasions, once by a fake taxi driver and then again at the hands of some Bolivians they had befriended who had drugged their drinks and beaten them before taking (what was left of) their valuables. To add injury to insult, one of them had also fallen off his bike on the Death Road. It was fair to say that these were an unlucky bunch but it did make me realise how fortunate we were to get out of that place unscathed – particularly considering the risky nature of our adventures. Anyway, we played some poker, drank some palpably cheap wine and retired to our salty beds for a good nights sleep. The pillows, mattresses and sheets were made of more familiar materials.

We set off as the sun came up the next morning. Our first stop, after an hour or so, was unplanned. Our jeep suddenly went quiet and we found ourselves watching hopefully as our driver tinkered with the engine. His toolkit consisted of a screwdriver and a knife, it wasn´t very convincing, but after a helping hand from the driver of another jeep (there were loads, breaking down in this desert was not as dramatic as you may imagine) we continued on our way to see Volcano Ollague, an active volcano which I had heard smokes like a Feltham housewife.

Due to the somewhat dangerous nature of active volcanoes we viewed this one from a distance – the “mirador” an interesting set of rock formations which I found almost as impressive as the distant smoke-tipped spectacle. The rest of the day was spent driving between picturesque lakes where the high mineral content means not only a welcome collection of flamingos but also spectacular variations in colour from deep reds to rich greens and streaks of yellow. Around the edges the lakes were framed with thick ice, this and the icy wind gave us a taste of the freezing night which we had been frequently warned to prepare for. We also visited the surreal and other-worldly landscape known as Salvador Dali Desert because the strange rocks are set to have inspired Dali when he visited the region.

It was an indescribable day of sights and I am well aware that my descriptive language fails to deliver the necessary images – even my photos don’t do the places justice – but to attempt to describe the constant, often baffling, changes in landscape would probably mean me dedicating the remainder of the trip to sitting hunched in various internet cafés across Argentina and Brazil. Thankfully, the hotel we were staying in requires very little description. It was basic and cold. We huddled around a small iron oven for warmth, played cards and the Frenchmen attempted to play the Beverly Hills Cop theme tune on panpipes (their Ipods had, after all, been robbed) – eventually the bitter cold of the night began to set in and we retreated to the warmth of our beds wearing as much as possible. It was the kind of night where you wake up to find an arm has fallen out of your sleeping bag and started collecting icicles but I slept well and, at 5am when we had to get up, was even fairly chirpy.

We set off in darkness, with stars scattered generously across the sky and our bodies still clinging to the warmth of our beds. I joked that breaking down now would be the worst thing ever. Then we did. Our driver tried to restart it but the engine gave nothing but a pained groan and a clangy rattle. We shivered patiently in the back. He tried the screwdriver, then the knife but nothing seemed to work! We tried to roll back to the hotel but we had driven too far and down too many hills – eventually the driver told us to wait while he walked back and got another jeep. By the time we watched the sun rise from the icy windows of our jeep, my chirpy mood had frozen over. We had been sitting in the cold for an hour and my feet were so cold they hurt. Our driver returned in a new and improved jeep and, happily abandoning the frozen corpse of that which had taken us so far, we continued on to the steaming land of the geysers.

Pools of thick, muddy water bubbled furiously and everywhere cracks in the ground shot streams of warm mist which drifted over us and filled our nostrils with its horrifically pungent sulphuric odour. I was amazed at how active the geysers were – there was a constant hissing and bubbling – and we were told that this was the case 24 hours a day. In an attempt to thaw my frozen feet, I stood nonchalantly on one of the smaller holes and immediately hopped off as the scolding steam burnt through my thin shoe! My feet half numb and half burnt, I got back into the jeep. I wasn´t particularly enjoying our last day.

We had breakfast at the nearby hot springs where we were also able to revive our feet. While Josh and I sat on the edge watching our toes come back to life, Niall and the Frenchmen braved partial nudity and went in fully. I was tempted, the water was nice and hot, until I considered that one has also to get out of the springs at some point. I decided to devote all my energy to eating as much breakfast as possible.

Fully defrosted and revitalized, the mornings mishaps were actively repressed and we proceeded to our final stop, Laguna Verde. This was a huge, deserted lake surrounded by red rocky mountains where the sulphur content repels flamingos but demands photography with its brilliant green water. Our driver said something in Spanish about the landscape being similar to Mars and that it is used by NASA for training purposes. That is at least what I decided he was saying – it could have been anything really. I have to confess that despite a tenfold increase in my vocabulary I probably only know about ten words of Spanish and most of them are only of any use when bargaining for alpaca jumpers or looking for a train station which is on the right hand side (I don’t know the word for left).

Anyway, so began our epic drive back to civilisation. It really was epic too; once we had bounced over the surface of Mars we crossed vast stretches of sand, slate, rubble and rock, splashed our way through icy frozen streams which trickled down through the valley from frosted mountaintops and eventually watched the sky changing colour as we roared across the flat, limitless landscapes before Uyuni.


permalink written by  steve_stamp on July 31, 2009 from Uyuni, Bolivia
from the travel blog: The art of being lost
tagged Desert, Photos, Lakes, Ice, Salt, Flamingos, Cold, Springs, Jeep, Breakdowns, Geyzers and Epic

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Summer Vacation in Masai Mara

Nairobi West, Kenya


Our journey starts upon arrival in Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. We are taken to the hotel where we spend our first night in Nairobi the capital city of Kenya. The city is crowded during the day and noisy especially from the traffic. But the uptown of Nairobi is a bit calm and the perfect place for your rest.

Early the next morning we start our safari to Masai mara national park. Kabiro is our driver and guide in the next 3 days we will be in Masai mara.Our drive takes us to the south along the floor of the Great Rift Valley with wonderful scenery and perfect place to take lots of pictures. We take a break at Narok Town for our lunch and then climb the western wall entering Hemmingways Country of the "Serengeti Plains". We arrive in Masai mara late afternoon in Masai mara with a game drive along the way before arriving in the campsite where we spend the night. The campsite is so amazing since we are sleeping in self contained tents with electricity and shower inside, who could imagine that in a bush unless it was a lodge. Kudus to the agency.

We later join other travellers for a campfire and some entertainment by the Maasai villagers, ooh what a wonderful way to retire for bed.

Early the next morning after superb heavy breakfast we leave for a morning game drive in the park. Our guide makes a joke that we are going hunting but we should not use guns but our cameras. What i loved during the game drive was the cooperation between all the drivers who were in the park, the way they could communicate with each other on the radio on the exact spot where the animals were and where there was a hunt. It was so good, because this way we were able to see many animals and i guess it was also our lucky day because we saw a cheetah on the hunt. It killed a antelope and unfortunately a crowd of hyenas came and chased the cheetah away and enjoyed the meal. how unfortunate, but i guess is the way to survive. Our driver told us that it was our lucky day to witness the hunt,we took lots and lots of photos.

After our full day game drive, our driver takes us to the Masai village where we make a stop and learn on their culture , ways of living and the food they eat. There houses which are commonly known as the manyattas are pretty small but the masai are proud of there ways of living. We had a chance to get some beautiful masai souvenirs, what a day.

We headed back to the campsite for some freshening up and later had a wonderful African dinner which was prepared on a special request by our host. It was a meal of Ugali and fried goat meat. We later join the camp fire nd interact with others then retire for bed.

On the third day our driver picks us up for a morning game drive after breakfast which lasted upto 11.00 o'clock in the morning. Am sorry to say this, but the trip ends here. We later arrive back in Nairobi in the late afternoon for lunch. Lunch in Nairobi restaurants are more fair in price compared to eating in the hotel. We are later joined by our host Nancy and she gives us this wonderful surprise of taking us to carnivore restaurant to wind up out trip with dinner there.Waw, the dinner was great, they have different range of bush meat , and choma was perfect. After this wonderful dinner we left for the airport. Asante sana Kenya and i will sure come back for more days.

Joan Schuff is a front desk receptionist. For more information about his site visit http://www.insideafricatravel.com

permalink written by  Spiderx on April 4, 2010 from Nairobi West, Kenya
from the travel blog: Masai Mara Safari in Kenya
tagged Lakes, Wildlife, Safaris and AnimalsBirds

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Hell's Gate National Park in Kenya

Naivasha, Kenya


HELL'S GATE NATIONAL PARK IN KENYA.

While planning your Kenya safari, try and include Hell's Gate National park in Naivasha. I went there with my family 2 years ago and i have decided to tell everybody about this wonerful place in Kenya. We went on a 8 days safari including Masai Mara, Lake Nakuru, Lake Naivasha (Hell's gate) and finished our safari in Samburu National park. Our agent "Inside Africa Budget Safaris" told us that Hells gate was part of the itenerary, we didnt say no since she was the expert. Let me tell you more about this wonerful place called Hells Gate and the history which we gathered from the locals there.

Hell's Gate National Park is a tiny park located between Naivasha Lake and Longonot and Suswa volcanoes and it is an ideal venue for a weekend retreat far from the urban life of Nairobi.The park provides a variety of wildlife, unusual flora and many species of birds and is one of the two only kenyan parks where climbing, walking and biking are allowed.Hell's Gate in Naivasha is an ideal getaway place enroute to Lake Nakuru or the Masai Mara.Visitors here have the choice of driving while game vieing, camping, cycling and rock climbing. Naivasha town is the second coast and to the majority who can not make it or afford the beaches and the white sand, this is the place to be.Hell's Gate National Park is a beautiful park that has bufalloes, gazelles, zebras, giraffe and ostrich among others. The park got its name after a narrow break in the cliffs, once a tributary of a prehistoric lake that fed early humans in the Rift Valley.Despite its name, Hell's Gate, given by the explorers Fisher and Thomson (1883) after their defeat against the hostile Maasai warriors, the park is a peaceful area where you can walk or do biking alongside towering cliffs and wild animals.

Hell's Gate stand in a class of its own, visitors here have the choice of driving, walking, camping, cycling and rock - climbing within the park while horseback safaris can also be arranged.For nature lovers, the entrance to the gorge is a perfect place for breakfast before descending for a gorgeous walk in this old canyon.Some of the spectacular scenerary in the park includes the towering cliffs water - gouged gorges, stark of rock towers, scrub-clad volcanoes and the rising plumes of geothermal stream.

On entering the the park, one is welcomed by the 25m high Fischers tower that rise high in the sky and which is used by novices in rock climbing to the highest point of the tower with the help of trained guides. The jugged volcanic plug is all that remains of an ancient volcano and its named after the German explorer Gustav Fischer.According to the Maasai who claim that the park was their ancestral land, the rock is petrified figure of a chief's daughter. The story goes that the girl was on her way to get married and was warned against looking behind lest she would turn into a rock. And just like the story of Sodom and Gomorah, she went against the instruction and took one last glance at her home and the tower is a reminder of what happened to her, she turned into a rock.

According to palmeris, the rock offers excellent climbing and is a home to a colony of rock hyrax among other small animals. The towering cliffs and undulating grasslands provide one of the few remaining places where one can walk alongside herds of bufallo, zebra and giraffes.Deeper into the lodge is the lower gorge that offers an opportunitry to explore the long, winding, deeper curves of the Ol Njorowe Gorge. In here water hot water springs which some claims are medicinal for those with skin diseases can be found and the tour for the strong hearted is breathtaking. The rising steam from various parts of the park is a clear indication of the geothermal power.

For bird lovers, this is just the perfect place for you, an incredible 103 species of birds have been recorded in the park. The massive cliff in the park provide a home for thousands of swift birds as well as unique breeding ground for vulture, augur buzzard, verreaux eagle and the rare Lamergeyer vulture. There is the Mervyn carnelly raptor hide, which is a unique bird viewing hide that incorparates a one way window. This allows visitors to view and photograph the raptors, which are birds of prey atexceptionally close range.

Discover this wonderful place while in Kenya.

John Schuff is a traveler. For more info about this visit http://www.insideafricatravel.com


permalink written by  Spiderx on April 4, 2010 from Naivasha, Kenya
from the travel blog: Hell's Gate National Park
tagged Horseriding, Rockclimbing, Lakes, Wildlife, Safaris, AnimalsBirds, WalkingTours and Biking

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